Immortalised by Gillo Pontecorvo in his anti-imperialist movie epic The Battle of Algiers, Yacef stared in a lead role. The movie was based largely on his jail memoirs. It has been coveted by anti-imperialist movements around the world from the Black Panthers to the IRA and is mandatory for counter insurgency forces, famously shown to US generals on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.
Saadi Yacef built the FLN in the Algerian capital Algiers, putting in place a robust and secretive urban guerilla structure, from a safe base in the city's now famous Casbah. He led the FLN into a protracted guerilla war against the "Pied Noir" colonial administration and the French Paratroopers flown in to defend it. The savagery of both sides as they wrested for supremacy was horrific, civilians became legitimate targets as the FLN began an urban bombing campaign with Pied Noir gangs and French Police responding in kind. The French Paratroopers employed torture techniques on captured suspects in a lethal game of cat and mouse to uproot and defeat Yacef's organisation.
As the French combed the Casbah, Yacef and his comrades including the now legendary Ali la Pointe, hid out in specially constructed cavities in the walls of the houses of the overcrowded 'Turkish Quarter'. One by one the French hunted down and found the hideouts as the flow of information from torture techniques (later used by the US in their war of Terror) paid off. Saadi Yacef was surrounded in one such hide and offered the chance to surrender or be blown up, he surrendered. Later, caught in the same trap, Ali la Pointe and his comrades would choose martyrdom and die rather than hand themselves in.
Accusations would linger for years that the information that led the French to la Pointe had been revealed under torture by Yacef.
Despite defeating the Yacef's structure after a year of fighting between 56-7 a new structure would rise from its ashes like the phoenix. With almost complete support from the indigenous majority the French were back where they started.
In 1962 Algeria finally gained independence. Yacef in later years would go on to be a senator in his nation's government. The Algerians are not like the Irish, they do not lionize and commemorate their martyred comrades. English journalist and author Alistair Horne, who perhaps wrote the definitive account of the Algerian conflict in his book A Savage War of Peace was surprised to find no plaques or monuments to Ali la Pointe at the spot where he gave his life in those narrow Casbah streets.
In that regard Pontecorvo's movie is a commemoration in celluloid far more effective and enduring than white marble or gold leaf could hope to be and through it Saadi Yacef and Ali la Pointe will continue to inspire those who would challenge Imperialism.
⏩ Packy Carty is an East Tyrone Socialist Republican.